Talk about Yourself

Yesterday, I started reading Carmine Gallo’s The Storyteller’s Secret. Gallo has written a series of presentation books, all of which boast airport bookstore titles:

  • Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Mind
  • The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of any Audience
  • The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success
  • 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators

So, Steve Jobs insanely great and Gallo likes to make lists. Also, he can squeeze get two books out of nearly any topic. I’m counting on this being at least an entertaining read if not rather informative. It’s part of my personal project to read as much as I can about storytelling, which seems like a sensible move for someone who wants to start a business teaching and consulting in storytelling.

The first line of The Storyteller’s Secret is, “I was lying flat on my back.” It’s a great opening line because any reader will have at least a couple questions after reading it. The reader with a sense of humor might even get a giggle out of it. Of course, we read on. Gallo lays on the ground in snowy Wisconsin. He gets up and Gallo tells a story about his first job as a news anchor.

This is not the only storytelling book I’ve read that starts with the author’s personal story. In fact, looking back at the reading I’ve been doing lately, quite a few authors start with themselves. Next to me at my work table is a pile of these books because I want to check them one by one…

PresentationZen by Garr Reynolds starts on a high-speed train in Japan with Reynolds savoring his bento lunch and gazing out the window.

Storycraft by Jack Hart opens with a reporter walking into the author’s Pacific northwest office thirty years ago.

Long Story Short by Margot Leitman gives us an introduction to the life of an aspiring actress in New York City in the 1990s.

Of course, we expect authors who write about storytelling to be great storytellers. Each of these stories is rich in detail and puts us in a specific time and place. They are also all personal stories. These storytellers share part of their life story with the audience. What does this do? Sharing personal stories is a way to reach out to your audience and invite them to listen to and consider your ideas, your story.

I recall a section in Hart’s Storycraft in which he describes the qualities of a good reporter. He wrote that a good reporter tells great stories to get their subjects to tell stories. He calls it “priming the pump,” a phrase not invented by Donald Trump. Witness this phenomenon whenever a group of people share a meal together. One person tells a story about a bad travel experience and a few minutes later everyone is relating stories about their own experiences. Sharing something personal helps other people talk about their own personal experiences.

These are all books that offer serious and valuable content. They aren’t memoirs or in any way personal stories and yet the personal story still works to draw in the reader. Academics, researchers, students, teachers, interviewees, and business people, can all learn a lesson here. Even if the content you want to share with your audience seems impersonal, a personal story, an anecdote, or vignette can work wonders when it comes to making a meaningful connection with your audience right away.

The question is: do you dare break through that imaginary wall? In our world of presentations to convey information to groups, the personal seems out of place at times. And yet as you stand before a group of people with facts and figures, you are still a person who finds purpose in sharing specifically these facts and figures. Do you dare insert yourself into your presentation at that moment? Why not give it a try? You might be pleasantly surprised by how many barriers you can break!

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